STATEWIDE — The makers of OxyContin — the one-time drug of choice for many Maine drug users — have agreed to plead guilty to three felonies, but that’s not stopping Maine’s lawsuit against the company from going forward.
“Two hundred and fifty-eight dead here in just these two quarters alone,” Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said about the number of Mainers who died in drug overdoses in the first half of 2020. “The Sackler’s, they get billions of dollars to keep them warm at night and we have people dying alone. It’s quite a contrast.”
Purdue Pharma and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a criminal and civil settlement Wednesday related to the company’s mismarketing of OxyContin and other opioid painkillers.
The family that founded Purdue, the Sackler family, has agreed to pay $225 million in damages and Purdue has agreed to pay $2.8 billion to resolve the civil liability under the False Claims Act.
Purdue also has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States by violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and two counts of conspiracy to violate the federal anti-kickback statute.
Maine was one of the first states where the abuse of OxyContin, sometimes called “hillbilly heroin,” was put into the public spotlight.
“Purdue is the main driver of how we got into this opioid crisis in the first place,” Frey said.
He added, “We’re going to keep our suit going with Purdue.”
Frey said the announced settlement is “insufficient for the damage done.”
The settlement calls for a criminal fine of $3.54 billion and a $2 billion forfeiture, and will lead to Purdue transforming into a public benefit company.
“We have some challenges with that, particularly that they’re proposing that Purdue become a public interest like they are going to start selling oxycodone in the public interest,” Frey said, adding, “Not good, not a big fan of it.”
Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year, and generic oxycodone drugmaker Mallinckrodt followed suit earlier this month.
“At this point, it’s too soon for us to tell if that’s going to have any impacts on any ongoing remediation work that we’re doing at the Orrington site,” said Susanne Miller, director of the Eastern Maine Regional Office for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “There is a lot of different Mallinckrodt companies and we don’t know how the Mallinckrodt company operating here will be affected by this.”
In Maine, OxyContin was introduced in 1995 and the number of overdose deaths has risen steadily ever since. More than 80 percent of the 258 deaths reported so far this year involve an opioid painkiller.
“I think it’s interesting that the Sacklers are not being held responsible at all,” Frey said. “They can sit on their billions of dollars they sucked out of this company making off the backs of people by addicting them.”